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"American Horror Story: Freak Show" keeps the streak of great beginnings with weak endings alive.

It's that time of year again.  For the third year in a row, I've binged on a season of American Horror Story and posted about it just in time to be irrelevant since there's a new season on air right now.  And for the third year in a row, I generally liked it even though I thought the ending was pretty weak.

(Spoilers ahead, for those who are even farther behind on the AHS curve than me.)

This time around I'm talking about "Freak Show," which simultaneously has the most potential for horror of all the show's premises to date and is also the least scary.  The show has really evolved over the years from "American Horror Story" to "American Tragedy Story."  The elements that could provide horror (serial killers, predatory exploitation, physical abnormalities, ghosts, etc.) are all played up for such melodrama that the horror trappings melt away and you're basically just left watching a couple of assholes try to out-do each other to be the worst human being ever until somebody kills them.

Tellingly, the creepiest and most genuinely terrifying aspect of the show - Twisty the Clown, a mute psychopathic murderer with dirty blood-stained clothes and an unnerving demon-grin mask - is killed off within the first four episodes.  He is replaced by Dandy, a murderer who is genuinely gut-wrenching and well-acted, but who never invokes terror.  He's never scary no matter how much he inspires your ire and rage.  To put it in a Game of Thrones analogy: Twisty is to The Mountain as Dandy is to King Joffrey.

If you chart the scariness of the show over time, you can actually see a logarithmic curve downward.  That first season had moments that actually forced me to look away from the screen like a little kid watching a horror movie for the first time.  This last season?  Eh.  It's interesting, I'll give it that.  But I could watch this one in the dark, alone, with headphones on and still get to sleep on time.

All that being said, it's not a bad show.  I would say I liked it better than "Coven," which is so far my least favorite season.  My problem with "Coven" was that so many elements were scrambled and fractured and structure-less that it never gelled together into a cohesive story.  For the most part, "Freak Show" gets that right... until the last three episodes or so.

What I don't understand is why they insisted on making this a 13-episode season.  It could easily - and should - have been only 10 episodes.  They basically build up a couple of great story arcs with a lot of suspense and drama and tension - Jimmy Darling is suspected of murder, Maggie is struggling with guilt over her involvement in some wrongdoings, Dandy is stacking up a body count, Elsa may or may not be selling out the freaks, etc. - and set themselves up with this great cliffhanger that cued the show up for an incredible season finale.

And then they brought Neil Patrick Harris into the show.  Yikes.  Huge mistake.

I'm not against NPH.  The dude is talented and does fine with what he's asked to do.  It's just that his character is completely useless to the story and completely derails everything.

It's like if the showrunner showed you a car careening out of control toward a cliff, and then stopped and said, "Wait, before we figure out what happens to those guys... let me tell you about this one tax collector."  And then you watch a completely unrelated tax collector have breakfast and go to work, and he kinda hates his job because its thankless, but he knows he needs to keep going to work to pay for his mortgage and his two kids.  Then he finds out his wife's cheating on him, and he gets really upset about it and abandons his family, and then he feels guilty about that, so he kills himself.  So you might think, "That guy was sympathetic and had kind of an interesting tangent, but why did you tell me about that guy so close to the end of the story?"  And then the showrunner just shrugs and says, "Dunno.  That car crashed, by the way."

It's actually even worse than that.  Functionally, the only real effect NPH has on the show is that he kills Maggie in a completely arbitrary plot twist.  Maggie is, up to this point, a fairly important character and one of the main engines for story development.  She has a conflicted, multi-layered relationship with Jimmy Darling.  She is a springboard for all kinds of great interaction between the freaks and the town around them.  And her death is a complete throwaway moment that is immediately dismissed by Angela Bassett's character and then never referred to again.

Words fail me.  It's just such a stupid thing to do with that character.

It's not that Maggie necessarily has to live through the whole show - it's just that the show ended up sacrificing her for the sake of some rando magician who shouldn't have been introduced in the first place.  Who gives a shit about this guy?  Why the hell are we paying attention to him?  I wanted to know what happened to Maggie.  Oh, she just died for no good goddamn reason?  And now the rando loser is leaving again?  Well, thanks a lot for stringing me along.  Didn't this show have a plot only a couple of episodes ago?  What happened to that?

It's hard to say if I want another season of this.  There's so much in AHS that I really dig, but I'm just starting to lose my patience.  Kinda the same problem I'm having with Game of Thrones, actually, but with a lot less rape.

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